Lost Labor Now Found

In today’s tight labor market, employers are being increasingly creative in their search for workforce talent. One new source: Disabled people. In 2017, more than 51,000 individuals left the disability rolls nationwide because they found “gainful” employment. That’s the highest number on record since 2002, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal cites the case of Nathan Mort, a 37-year-old Michigan native with a high-functioning form of autism:

Mort’s fortunes turned several years ago when a local food distributor, Gordon Food Service, found itself short of entry-level workers and developed an internship program for adults with disabilities. Mr. Mort was hired from the program permanently to track warranty claims for the company’s trucks and other equipment. That allowed him to stop collecting federal disability benefits and move into his own house.

“A reason why I like my job is because it’s kind of the same thing over and over again. I really like routines. That is part of my autism,” Mr. Mort said. Making his own money, he added, “makes you feel more worth something.”

In 2018, the average monthly jobless rate for the disabled was 8 percent, down 4.6 points from 2014. Unemployment for this group is declining faster than for the broader population.

Gordon Food Service found Mr. Mort through Hope Network, a Grand Rapids, Michigan, non-profit that serves the disabled, according to Jill Day, a senior talent acquisition leader at the company. “For many of our entry-level positions, there’s not enough people going into those roles,” she said. “I think that creates a great opportunity for the company to step back and ask, ‘What can we be doing differently?’ There’s an enormous number of people with disabilities who are hungry to work and want to contribute.”

As a vehicle-warranty administrator, says the Journal,

Mr. Mort spends his time copying serial numbers, submitting warranty repair orders, tracking claims, and managing data-bases. After his internship he was hired for a part-time job. He gradually increased his hours and in November was given a full-time role, taking home more than $400 a week plus health benefits.

“He has incredible focus and never seems to get tired of processing claims,” said Jason Derby, Mr. Mort’s supervisor and Gordon Food Service fleet-maintenance manager.

Mr. Mort uses his earnings to pay for maintenance and property taxes on a two-bedroom condo his parents purchased for him last year.

Mr. Mort’s father, Bruce, now worries less about what will happen once he and his wife are no longer able to care for their son. “It was scary for a while,” he said. “During the recession there weren’t many companies willing to give someone with autism a chance.”